V/H/S/85 (2023)

by - October 5th, 2023 - Movie Reviews


V/H/S/85 is a Blast of Gore, Laughs, Fright, and Mayhem

A shape-shifting child vexes a group of scientists, one of whom minimizes the potential danger. Seven friends retreat for a weekend of camping and disregard signs to stay out of the water. A performance artist attempts to communicate with the new “digital gods” of virtual reality in front of a small (if fascinated) audience. The crew of a popular daily newscast find their building crumbling around them when a massive earthquake hits Mexico City. A close-knit family reunites to celebrate the coming-of-age of one of their own when the teenager completes a traditional test of cunning, planning, and marksmanship — and shoots a home movie of herself doing it.

V/H/S85 (2023) | PHOTO: Shudder

This sixth chapter in the found-footage horror anthology series, V/H/S/85 may be the most consistently entertaining entry yet. I’d still rank V/H/S 2 and V/H/S/94 ahead of it, but that’s because a couple of their stories are so colossally awesome that the lesser ones hardly matter. But this time out? There’s not a dog in the bunch. The sextet of creepy, lo-fi tales of carnage, wonderment, and woe is a heck of a lot of gross-out fun.

There is no “wraparound” story this time out. Instead, what we have here is a “mixtape” of tales, only two of which are connected. What is likely the foundational item on the tape is director David Bruckner (Hellraiser, The Night House) and writer Evan Dickson’s “Total Copy,” a made-for-TV documentary chronicling a disastrous tragedy involving a group of scientists who make a remarkable discovery. Flashes of this short are sprinkled throughout the film, with the other five entries recorded on top of it, meaning only extended residual outtakes are left.

But then there are the two interconnected efforts of writer-director Mike P. Nelson (Wrong Turn, The Domestics): the camping-weekend-gone-horrifically-wrong slasher “No Wake” and the repellently funny, happy-family-of-cult-sadists curio “Ambrosia.” While they’re taped over the top of Bruckner’s piece, V/H/S/85 basically begins and ends with them, so in many ways they also could be considered the foundation this sequel is built upon.

The other three pieces are “God of Death” by Gigi Saul Guerrero (Satanic Hispanics), “TKNOGD” by Natasha Kermani (Lucky), and the surrealistic, time-bending bit of dismembering insanity that is “Dreamkill,” director Scott Derrickson’s latest collaboration with co-writer C. Robert Cargill (Sinister, The Black Phone). While none of these are incredible, each is still quite good, all offering up several surprising twists and turns before violently exploding during their blood-splattering climaxes.

Guerrero’s piece reminded me a bit of Gareth Huw Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s electrifying “Safe Haven” from V/H/S 2. The filmmaker starts her story with a terrifying real-life event: the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. A television news broadcast is interrupted by the tragedy, and several first responders, one of the show’s producers, and a determined cameraman struggle to survive as their building disintegrates around them.

But it’s what they find in the long-lost catacombs beneath the rubble where the true terror lies. An ancient demonic secret that’s been waiting to be resurrected since the fall of Tenochtitlan is ready to rip the heart out of anyone unlucky enough to find themselves at its sacrificial doors, and that’s exactly where this group ends up. It’s a fight for survival that goes far beyond a natural disaster, and Guerrero ratchets up the intensity to an almost unendurable level.

V/H/S85 (2023) | PHOTO: Shudder

Derrickson and Cargill aren’t firing on all cylinders with “Dreamkill,” but it’s still clear they’re letting out an exuberant scream with their nasty bit of analog precognition. This one is also a family affair, with Derrickson’s sons Dashiell and Atticus having pivotal roles in the production. The former is one of the film’s co-leads, playing a goth teenager with fantastical psychic abilities that are giving him literal nightmares; the latter composed the segment’s memorable score, giving events a Fulci-meets-Carpenter vibe that’s wonderful.

Still, it’s Nelson’s sections I enjoyed the most. While I knew “No Wake” had to resolve itself somehow, I was impressed with how the director weaved it into the fibers of “Ambrosia” so seamlessly. Both play just fine apart as standalone efforts, but together they’re borderline magical, the goofy creative simplicity of how they’re intertwined nothing short of marvelous.

V/H/S/85 is an absolute blast of gore, laughs, fright, and mayhem. I have no idea if producers Brad Miska, Josh Goldbloom, and Radio Silence (filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, and Chad Villella) intend on keeping the V/H/S series going, but as long as they keep attracting a diverse group of talented filmmakers to strut their horror stuff with such gleefully imaginative abandon, I almost hope it goes on forever.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

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